|Giant City State Park Lodge|
CARBONDALE — Stouffer’s is a line of frozen foods, now. But when I was a little boy it was a fancy restaurant — actually several fancy restaurants — in Cleveland, where my mother would take me in the regal years before my little brother was born. It was where I ate my first Parker House roll, a dense, yeasty cube with a sweet glazed brown dome top. I never forgot it nor the wicker basket with a red napkin in which it arrived. My mother, for her part, still tells the story of the time at Stouffer’s when her little boy announced she should change her hairstyle, one of those moments when a mom first realizes that she has her hands full.
Hearing that story, I would not imagine any reader would muse, “Maybe I’ll stop by Stouffer’s next time I’m in Cleveland and try one of those rolls.” Even successful restaurants are short-lived: 70 percent that make it through the perilous first year are out of business by year five. Stouffer’s began freezing popular meals for customers in the 1940s and its frozen meals went to the moon with the Apollo 11 astronauts. As the business took off, Vernon Stouffer — who owned the Cleveland Indians in the 1960s — gave up on running restaurants.
Which came to mind when my wife, realizing we would be in Carbondale for the eclipse, announced that we should swing by the Giant City State Park Lodge restaurant. She had gone as a very young girl, visiting her downstate cousins. They had eaten family style, big plates of fried chicken. She never forgot that chicken.
Odd. She never mentioned it before. And after the both of us talking nonstop to each other for — jiminy — 35 years, I thought I had heard everything.
My heart broke a little. I wanted to say, “Oh honey, that restaurant won’t be there anymore. It’s been half a century. And if it is, they won’t serve fried chicken family style.” She jumped on the internet. It was still there, and we hurried over our first night.
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